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"Dead" Drummer Joins Effort To Explore The Science Of Rhythm

posted 8 Mar 2014, 07:27 by Mpelembe   [ updated 8 Mar 2014, 07:27 ]

Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart is helping neuroscientists in California explore the relationship between rhythm and brain function. Hart is part of a virtual realityexperiment to see if rhythm could be used as a form of therapy for people in cognitive decline.

SAN FRANCISCOCALIFORNIAUNITED STATES (RECENT) (REUTERS) - Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart is using an electric drum set to navigate his way through a new type of video game while immersed in a virtual world.

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But there is a lot more to this game than meets the eye. Hart is in a state- of-the-art laboratory at the University of California San Francisco, connected to dozens of sensors, collecting data about everything from his eye movements and heart rate to his skin temperature and brain activity.

All of this data is used to create a state of the art real-time display of Mickey Hart's brain in action.

Researchers in a control room are combing through the data as it comes in, using the latest technologies in neurosciencevirtual reality and gaming. Adam Gazzaley, the director of the newly opened lab and a neuroscientist at the University of California San Francisco, says by combining these technologies his team are now able to image the brain like never before.

"So we couple these three different worlds together and use them to inform each other and create really the most powerful real time neural activity visualizer that anyone has ever seen," he said.

And with that visualizer, Gazzaley and Mickey Hart believe they can develop rhythm-based treatments for neurological disorders. Hart says he's seen the healing power of rhythm first hand…and not just as a member of one of America's best-loved bands. Hart played drums for the celebrated Grateful Dead from September 1967 to February 1971 and again from October 1974 to August 1995.

He says he believes rhythm is at the heart of everything. He says he has seen the power of a beat first hand and now he hopes these types of experiments will prove their potential to the world.

"My grandmother couldn't speak for years, she had Alzheimer's. I played a drum for her once, a rhythmic little tattoo and she spoke my name. Many years ago in the 70's and I realized that there was power in rhythm. This is what this is all about. What is this power and how do we use it and how to we repeat and how can we make a better world using the tools that we have been given. This super organism, there is nothing better than this, this master clock, I want to know how it works," he said.

And that is exactly what Adam Gazzaley and his team intend to do. He says that the game works like a drug. As Mickey plays the game his brain activity is analysed with the goal of using it to adjust Mickey's virtual world in real time. In the future, Gazzaley says tuning the game could potentially re-shape and re-wire neural circuitry in the brain.

"A key part of how our brain works is timing, exquisite millisecond timing. We know that when the timing is off the information processing that our brain does is not at the same level and it impacts the way you interact with the world around you. So the idea is if we can teach the brain how to become a better timing machine, better rhythmically, that you, your brain can perform at a more optimal level and it will translate into how you interact with the world around you and lead to a better quality of life," he said.

Gazzaley says his ultimate goal is to prove that diagnosing and ultimately treating neurological disorders doesn't necessarily mean creating new drugs. He says that these types of technologies will shed new light on alternative treatment options.

"I think that all of these things can be brought into very rigourous and empirical research and validated in well controlled studies and then reproduced just like we would with any other medicine like drugs and pharmaceuticals," he said.

"I believe there are medicinal properties innate in sound," said Hart, "In the Grateful Dead we were playing with sound and creating an experience, an auditory driving experience. Were we able to see our brains before during and after an auditory driving experience - no. Now we can. This is what this is all about," he added.

Adam Gazzaley says the research is still very much in its infancy but that its potential is enormous. As for Mickey Hart, he says he will continue doing what he has been doing his entire life - making music - but these days, in the name of science.